The Hotel Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam, familiarly known as “The Grand,” has a long history that dates back to the 1500’s when the building was used as a convent. Since that time, it has been a 16th Century Royal Guest House, a 17th Century Amsterdam Admiralty Headquarters, and the city’s Town Hall in the 19th Century. More recently, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands was married here in 1966.
The entrance to the hotel is through a courtyard, set back from the street. Passing a fountain, you enter the hotel through a brass and wood revolving door. Afternoon tea at “The Grand” is served in either the lounge, an Art Deco and stained glass room, or in the Bar at Bridges.
As luck would have it, these two rooms were fully booked the afternoon I arrived with two large groups who were staying at the hotel and having afternoon tea. My fortunes quickly changed when a waiter ushered me into the “VIP” room of Bridge’s Bar – normally reserved for celebrities and such during the usual evening/night hours at the bar. It was available (during the day) for afternoon tea.
The VIP room, ironically, is furnished in a very modern style in contrast to the outer hotel facade, which is one of the oldest and most historic buildings in Amsterdam. I will say that the low seating and low tables, normally reserved for VIP bar guests in the evening, were perfectly suited for a proper afternoon tea.
At “The Grand,” there is no afternoon tea menu. They will, instead, take care of every detail for you and all you have to do is say the words, “Afternoon Tea.” I am not quite sure if this is standard practice, but the young Asian woman who was handling my service happened to be quite knowledgeable about tea. She explained that today I would be receiving three different teas, all personally selected by her, one to go with each of the food courses on the three tier tray – the scones, the finger sandwiches and the sweets. She would be recommending a specific tea to pair with each of the food courses.
The china service used by The Grand is Sieger by Furstenberg.
The first suggestion was to start with the top-tier scones course as they are served warm when first brought out. Since scones are a “heavy” food, she would be selecting a “light” Chinese green tea to accompany it. Heavy food and light tea – I was starting to get the picture. The warm raisin scones with whipped cream went quite nicely with the light Chinese green tea – a very good way to begin the afternoon. I began to wonder what she was going to cook up (brew up) next. The anticipation made it entertaining.
Since we tried the scones first, the next course would be the finger sandwiches. I was served a delicious egg salad, a smoked salmon (with horseradish), and a third sandwich that I haven’t seen before in an afternoon tea setting. Here at The Grand, I enjoyed a wonderful Dutch shrimp/prawn tea sandwich, and it was a new and flavorful addition to afternoon tea.
As we were having the “medium” weight finger sandwiches, I was thinking to myself – what kind of tea will she be pairing this with? After carefully removing the original pot of Chinese green tea, along with the cup and saucer, I waited for her to bring the fresh pot of _____? (dramatic pause here). The tea she selected for the medium-weight finger sandwiches was a medium strength Indian black tea, scented with lemon and lotus. A medium tea for a medium food course – perfect again and very well done. I could definitely detect the scent of lotus in the black tea.
Finally, the sweets course was last. I was served a crème brulee, some classic scallop-shaped Madeline cookies, an apple tart, and another light sweet. Ok, I’m beginning to detect the pattern here. If this is a light course, I’m going to guess that she’s brewing a heavier tea to accompany it. And I was more or less right – this time a Pakistani black tea was chosen for the final sweets course and, for me, it was the best of the group. Although it was a full bodied black tea, it wasn’t over the top.
After the afternoon tea, I took a quick trip up to the 2nd Floor to see the “Marriage Chamber.” From 1808 to 1988, the building that now houses the hotel was formerly used as Amsterdam’s City Hall. It therefore required a marriage chamber where civic weddings could be held and are, actually, still held to this day. The murals, by artist Chris Lebeau, depict a man and a women progressing through the various stages of life.